Human receives gene-edited pig heart transplant in medical milestone

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A Maryland man has now lived for three days with a pig heart beating inside his chest.

The surgery, at the University of Maryland, marks the first time a gene-edited pig has been used as an organ donor.

Dave Bennett, 57, agreed to be the first to risk the experimental surgery, hoping it would give him a shot at making it home to his Maryland duplex and his beloved dog Lucky. 

“This is nothing short of a miracle,” his son David said Sunday, two days after his father’s life-extending surgery. “That’s what my dad needed and that’s what I feel like he got.”

In the nine-hour surgery, doctors replaced his heart with one from a 1-year-old, 240-pound pig gene-edited and bred specifically for this purpose.

So far, Bennett is breathing on his own without a ventilator, though he remains on an ECMO machine that is doing about half the work of pumping blood throughout his body. Doctors plan to slowly wean him off.

Scientists have been working for decades to figure out how to save human lives with animal organs. Right now, more than 100,000 people sit on organ transplant waitlists, suffering terrible symptoms and side effects. About 6,000 of them die every year waiting in vain for someone else’s tragedy to provide them with a new kidney, heart or lung. 

Pigs have similar organs to humans. If those organs could be used in transplants, the waiting would end. People who would never be considered candidates for transplants – who never make it onto those transplant lists – could suddenly look forward to family dinners, playing with their kids or grandkids and simply going back to living their lives.

A surgical team at the University of Maryland School of Medicine works to give patient Dave Bennett, 57, of Maryland, a gene-edited pig heart.

That’s the promise of so-called xenotransplantation. And the field took a major leap forward with Bennett’s Friday surgery.

“This is a truly remarkable breakthrough,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, a transplant surgeon at NYU Langone, and heart transplant patient himself. “I am thrilled by this news and the hope it gives to my family and other patients who will eventually be saved by this breakthrough.”

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